from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Having elements of great variety or incongruity; heterogeneous.
  • adjective Having many colors; variegated; parti-colored.
  • noun The parti-colored attire of a court jester.
  • noun A heterogeneous, often incongruous mixture of elements.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A habit made of pieces of cloth of different colors in glaring contrast: the usual dress of the jester or professional fool.
  • noun A jester; a fool.
  • noun Any mixture, as of colors.
  • Party-colored; variegated in color; consisting of different colors: as, a motley coat.
  • Composed of or exhibiting a combination of discordant elements; heterogeneous in composition; diversified.
  • To variegate; give different colors to.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A combination of distinct colors; esp., the party-colored cloth, or clothing, worn by the professional fool.
  • noun obsolete Hence, a jester, a fool.
  • noun a fool.
  • adjective Variegated in color; consisting of different colors; dappled; party-colored.
  • adjective Wearing motley or party-colored clothing. See Motley, n., 1.
  • adjective Composed of different or various parts; heterogeneously made or mixed up; discordantly composite.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective Comprising greatly varied elements, to the point of incongruity; heterogeneous
  • adjective Having many colours; variegated
  • noun A jester's multicoloured clothes
  • noun An incongruous mixture

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adjective consisting of a haphazard assortment of different kinds
  • adjective having sections or patches colored differently and usually brightly
  • noun a collection containing a variety of sorts of things
  • noun a garment made of motley (especially a court jester's costume)
  • verb make something more diverse and varied
  • noun a multicolored woolen fabric woven of mixed threads in 14th to 17th century England
  • verb make motley; color with different colors


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English motlei, variegated cloth, variegated, probably from Anglo-Norman, probably from Middle English mot, speck; see mote.]


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  • A varicolored woolen fabric of mixed threads.

    December 23, 2007

  • "Clothing is no longer a single cult which all must practise in the same way, only well or badly. One may now dress quixotically or sentimentally or satirically or gorgeously, at will. It is no longer necessary to wait for a costume party to get out the thirties dressing-gown embroidered with hollyhocks or that ragged Tunisian wedding dress. Everyone wears motley."

    - 'Hippies in Asia', Germaine Greer in Sunday Times, 1972.

    April 13, 2008